Disclaimer: I don't own Merlin. It's a fact.
A/N: Not beta'd but I hope you like it. Set in the second half of season two, I guess.
Arthur learned later than he really should've that Merlin needed a manservant of his own. Not that he didn't get his work done or needed someone to pick up the dirty clothes because Arthur really didn't care if Merlin's room was a mess of nightmare proportions. But Arthur found out that Merlin really needed someone to take care of him.
Horrifyingly, the first time Arthur realized this was when they went to help Merlin's home village. As soon as they showed up in Ealdor, Hunith gathered her son in her arms and whispered about how skinny he was. Arthur thought that was an odd thing to say, Merlin had always been a slender creature. But just after hearing this, Arthur found his head tilting and eyes squinting as he really looked at his servant. He was more skeletal than slender now. He also noticed on that trip how not only did Hunith constantly try and force that awful food on Arthur, but on Merlin who seemed to preoccupied to eat.
It wasn't a week later that Arthur saw more proof that Merlin hadn't been eating like he should've. They'd been on a hunt, just the two of them, when Merlin, the idiot that he was, tripped over something such as a pebble and hurt himself. Constant words fell from Merlin's mouth about how he was 'fine' and 'not hurt' and 'don't worry, you prat' but Arthur saw the blood soaking through the blue fabric. Rolling his eyes, Arthur stalked up to Merlin and lifted the other man's shirt. After fighting to get it off (that kerchief probably should've been taken off first) he got a good look at Merlin's upper body.
"Dear Lord." Arthur said, eyes wide.
Merlin looked down, "What? Oh come on, Arthur, it's barely bleeding. It's not that bad. Just a scratch." He then poked at what really was a small scratch.
Arthur swallowed, being able to count the bones that lay under Merlin's skin. Feeling a knot somewhere in his stomach, he tried to ignore the worry and set to fixing Merlin's thin cut. Turning around when he was done, he cursed mentally. How did Merlin get that bony? He'd heard about people (usually women) dieting too much, no matter how thin they become they always think themselves fat; did that mental affliction come over Merlin? Or maybe he still wasn't well from when he drank the poison? That had been ages ago, surely he'd had time to gain some weight back. No matter, he'd make sure Merlin gained some weight. He couldn't have his manservant waste away to nothing.
Starting the next morning, Arthur asked if Merlin had ever eaten grapes. Upon the negative response, which Arthur had expected, he force some on Merlin. "You've got to try at least one." He handed one over and Merlin took his hesitantly. "So?"
"It's very good Arthur." Merlin said before going back to his task of cleaning the room.
Arthur scowled, this was where Merlin was supposed to ask for more grapes and eat most of them. "Do you want another?"
"Another what?" Merlin looked up, a bit of dust coloring his cheek.
"Grape, what else?" Arthur replied simply, "The kitchen gave me more than I wish to have today. So, if you want some, they won't go to waste."
Merlin shrugged, "Eat your share and I'll make sure the rest get eaten."
Arthur nodded, pleased with the answer and leaving most of them on his plate, he was annoyed when Merlin took the rest to Gwen, saying that she had told Merlin about grapes once and dreamed of eating them again.
The following evening, Arthur tried the same approach, just a touch differently. "Merlin, I find I'm full."
Merlin's eyebrows rose, "Are you feeling unwell, sire? Because I don't think I've ever heard you say that before." He paused and a look of horror passed his face, "Does this mean the world as we know it is ending?"
Arthur glared, "Don't be stupid, Merlin. Anyway, I've got some food left, you can have it."
Merlin's eyes latched onto the bite of chicken and a honey cake left. "Well, I mean-"
"Just eat them, Merlin. I'm going to read these reports Father gave me so you've got time." Arthur got up and went to his desk, keeping an eye on his manservant. If Merlin didn't eat them, he probably had that illness where they don't eat, but if he did then… then what did that mean? Shrugging to himself, he kept watch. To Arthur's relief, Merlin did eat the food left over, almost inhaling it, clearly very hungry.
After dismissing Merlin early that night, Arthur wondered why Merlin wasn't eating. He'd find out over time, until then he'd con Merlin into having some left over food. Hopefully he'd eat it and not share it with those who didn't need it. Gwen and Gaius both seemed to eat when they should've and didn't need the bits of food Arthur snuck to Merlin.
And then it got out of hand. It was a rather normal day, as far as Arthur knew. He'd given Merlin the usual bout of errands and he was happy that he no longer heard the rumors of a giant beast just beyond the gates in the wood. Having figured that another day of rumors would meant he'd have to go and hunt it down, which Arthur would've readily done if it came to that.
In the mid afternoon, Arthur was doing nothing much in his chambers when he noticed Merlin start to sway on his feet. Arthur was out of his chair before he knew it and had his arms around Merlin and lowered him gently to the ground. Once he made sure Merlin was breathing and laying comfortably on the floor, Arthur ran to the door and yelled for a someone to fetch Gaius.
Sitting next to Merlin, he tried to wake him. "You need to wake up now, Merlin." He tried to hide the worry in his voice as he tapped his servant's cheek. It didn't take long for the tapping to become more of a slap, which, thankfully, woke Merlin up.
"Arthur? What's going on?" Merlin's face was scrunched and he tried to sit up but Arthur ended up catching him and putting him back on the floor.
"I don't know Merlin, you just fell over. Gaius is coming, we'll find out what happened." He frowned, "Do you remember anything?"
Merlin blinked slowly and answered when Gaius entered the room, "I got dizzy."
"Get him into your bed." Gaius said simply, "I don't want to have to bend so low unless I have to."
Arthur nodded and with a steady and firm grip, helped Merlin into Arthur's bed. "I don't know what happened." Arthur explained, "He was just working when suddenly he got dizzy and fainted - like a girl."
Gaius didn't say much, just nodded and checked Merlin over for injuries before forcing his Look upon his patient. "Tell me, Merlin, when is the last time you ate?"
"I ate this morning." Merlin said quietly, "I did."
Gaius gave the Eyebrow, "And how much did you eat?"
Merlin's gaze fell, "Well, you see, Gaius, I didn't have time for a big breakfast-"
"I said you needed a big, healthy breakfast, Merlin." Gaius sighed and shook his head, "Okay, so what did you eat then?"
After a pause, Merlin sighed, "A piece of bread."
"What?" Arthur asked, "One piece?" At Merlin's weak nod Arthur let out a curse. "If you had asked, I would've given you more time to eat, you fool."
Gaius ignored Arthur, "And did you at all yesterday?"
Merlin hung his head in resignation, "I didn't have time."
Arthur paced; since when did Merlin not have time to eat? He hadn't been given extra tasks and now that Arthur thought about it, less than usual. Looking at the two others in the room he saw Merlin and Gaius share a look. "Merlin, you need to start eating properly." Gaius held his hand up, hushing Merlin's complaints, "I don't care what you are doing, you are to eat something. Don't forget and don't get too busy or ignore it. This has been going on long enough. There is no reason to why you should skip a meal, is that understood?" Merlin nodded weakly, "Okay then. I order bed rest for you until tomorrow and a healthy dose of food." Standing up, Gaius continued, "And don't eat it all at once and make yourself sick. Eat it slowly throughout the evening."
"Gaius," Arthur said, "He can stay here and I'll make sure the idiot does as he's told." Ignoring Merlin's protest, he continued, "That way you don't have to keep watch on him. I don't have anything planned for this evening so it's no bother."
"If you're sure?" Gaius said slowly. After a nod from the prince, Gaius headed to the door, "I'll tell the kitchen to send food up through out the evening. Mostly it will be bread, cheese, soup. Light food. I don't want him to be getting sick." With that he took his leave.
"Well," Arthur started as he sat down next to Merlin who had his knees pulled up to his chest, "it's a good thing I was here to catch you and not out hunting for the beast I'd heard about."
"It was a manticore." Merlin said and upon Arthur's sharp look, he finished with a quick, "I'd heard about it and did some research incase you had to fight it." To Arthur, that statement seemed like a lie; it seemed like Merlin knew exactly what had been out there and did something. But what? It's not like Merlin went out and faced the beast (manticore) by himself and that's why he didn't have time to eat the day before. That was just silly.
From then on, Arthur would ask Merlin daily if he'd been eating. He knew it sometimes got on Merlin's nerves, but he didn't want his servant to collapse again. He only started asking less after he started seeing some meat on Merlin's bones. He was still thin, too thing really, but he figured that he wouldn't be able to count Merlin's ribs should he get the chance.
Alas, that wasn't the last time Merlin would faint.
It wasn't until the whole Troll as a Step Mum Thing that Arthur realized Merlin was depriving himself from something else important. He had, of course, noticed that sometimes Merlin would appear tired; yawning loudly and long. Usually around the time that some monster or sorcerer was trying to destroy their peace. But it became very apparent with the Troll as a Step Mum Thing when the day of the wedding, Merlin rushed in with bags under his eyes and upon seeing that the wedding was over, Arthur could swear that it looked like Merlin wanted to cry. And it wasn't the normal 'Weddings Make Me Cry' it was an 'All That Hard Work For Nothing' cry.
It was like Merlin had been up all night, which didn't make sense. Of course Arthur knew that Merlin hadn't liked the Troll as a Step Mum Thing long before anyone else knew she was a Troll but there was no explanation why Merlin had been up all night. It wasn't like he could stop the wedding or make everyone see her for what she really was. That only came about when she forgot to take her potion.
But that was the first time Arthur really noticed that maybe Merlin would forget to sleep as well as eat.
Well, not forget so much, because how could you forget to sleep? It was probably like it had been with the whole Not Eating Business; Merlin thought he was too busy to sleep. Which also didn't make sense because he could sleep when Arthur was; no chores when your master was asleep. He had hoped that once Merlin had run away from Camelot, so that the Troll as a Step Mum Thing didn't kill Merlin, he'd get some rest. But the idiot hadn't even left Camelot and hid under Arthur's bed which was bothersome because only the night before Merlin showed up Arthur had been missing his manservant and thinking about him and he might've had a wank and moaned Merlin's name when he came.
Luckily Merlin claimed to not have been under Arthur's bed at that time. And if he was, Merlin was ignoring it.
But Merlin had crawled out from under Arthur's bed and the two things that crossed his mind was 1) the idiot was still in Camelot and not just Camelot but the castle and 2) he looked really tired, as if he hadn't slept in days. Maybe he hadn't, because Merlin had a way to fix the whole Troll as a Step Mum Thing.
When it was all settled and his father was (thankfully) back to normal, Merlin showed up on time for all of his chores, but over the course of the next few nights, Merlin appeared better rested. Within a week, Merlin looked as if he was sleeping as much as he should.
But then it happened again.
Arthur noticed that whenever something big was going down, sometimes starting a few days before Arthur even heard of it, Merlin seemed to stop sleeping. Whether he was too afraid to sleep, or was trying to solve the problems he had no reason to solve, he would stop sleeping.
Of course, Arthur wasn't one to talk. During those times, Arthur would sleep less but he'd eventually succumb. Even if he fell asleep when he was sitting in a chair thinking up battle strategies, he still slept. But he never saw Merlin slumber.
Then again, Merlin would have these bought of sleeplessness when nothing was threatening the Kingdom. Maybe Merlin just had insomnia? He'd heard of that. During one of those moments when Merlin was clearly not resting but needed to, Arthur hunted down Gaius to have a word.
"Has he been sleeping?" Arthur started without a greeting.
"Who, my Lord?" Gaius asked.
"Merlin, who else?" Arthur rolled his eyes. "It appears as if he hasn't been and there is no reason for it. Make sure he sleeps tonight, will you? He's so boring when he's tired."
"Yes, sire." Gaius bowed slightly, "If I have to I will sneak him a sleeping draught."
"Good." Arthur nodded and walked off.
That night, Arthur was away and saw Merlin skulking around outside. Sighing and cursing Gaius for not sneaking Merlin the drink, he put on his boots and followed. Not bothering to be quiet, he chased Merlin and after catching up to his manservant, put a hand on the skinny shoulder.
Merlin jumped and turned, scream trying to escape, "Oh, Arthur." he gasped, trying to calm his breathing from being frightened.
"I didn't sneak up." Arthur said, brow furrowed.
"Sorry, sire. It's just my thoughts were elsewhere." Merlin flashed a fake looking smile. "What are you doing out here?"
"Me?" His eyebrow rose, "You. What are you doing out here? Why aren't you asleep?" His voice was soft with the last sentence. Merlin looked even worse at night. The dark circles under his eyes more apparent and shadows casting harsh lines on his face that made it appear as if Merlin wasn't eating again. "And has any food gone past your lips today?" He tried to not look at Merlin's lips when he said that. This was not a time for those thoughts.
Merlin blinked slowly, "Yes?"
Sighing, Arthur gripped Merlin and started leading him back inside. It wasn't until they were near the doors that Merlin started to struggle and protest. "Arthur, no. I have to- Go. I have to go." His voice was weak, as was his grip.
Arthur turned Merlin to face him, "Go and do what?"
Merlin let out a whine of complaint, "Just go." He tried to twist out of Arthur's grasp, "It's important."
"Well then tell me what it is and I'll go do it while you're asleep." Arthur kept his grasp on Merlin.
Merlin winced at the idea, "I can't." His voice twisted. "You don't understand, Arthur."
"And you're going to fall asleep on your feet." Arthur replied, thinking that Merlin might not even remember this conversation the next day. "Why not sleep for a few hours, eat something and then I'll let you go and do your quest." Merlin tilted his head, thinking about it. Arthur could tell that he had to sweeten the deal before he'd relent, "Tell you what, we'll go to my chambers and I'll get some food fit for me and then you can take a catnap on my bed. Like that time when you fainted because you didn't eat?"
Merlin licked his lips, "You'll wake me up after two hours or so?" Arthur nodded, lying, "And let me go back to do this by myself?"
"Of course, Merlin." Keeping his voice soft, he finished leading Merlin inside and told a servant to bring some food. He figured it would be easier if he got Merlin to eat before sleeping; figuring that when Merlin woke he'd yell at Arthur. Arthur had every intention of letting Merlin sleep until he woke up on his own.
Merlin had slept for hours. When he came around, he did in fact, yell at Arthur before quickly rushing out and finishing whatever he had started. Arthur thought that was the end of it.
Arthur never found out why his manservant had been loosing sleep that time, but he had hoped that it wouldn't get that bad again. It had gotten worse.
Not too long after that Merlin had been gone all morning, no matter where Arthur looked, he didn't spot his manservant. Guinevere didn't know where he was, Morgana didn't know where he was, Gaius didn't know where he was. Ignoring his duties, Arthur stalked around the castle looking for his manservant. A knot was gnawing at his insides. He knew that Merlin didn't take care of himself very well, not to mention he was very clumsy. And attracted attention of those who want to do harm like how honey called to flies. Anything could've happened to him.
It was early afternoon when Arthur finally found his manservant. Merlin was in the middle of a field - why he was in the field, Arthur had no idea. He didn't see any herbs for Gaius so he hadn't been gathering any. It was just a field of tall grass. After seeing a trail lead into it, he'd followed the path and found Merlin laying down in the weeds, the grass so tall that you had to be standing right next to him to see him. Bending down, Arthur quickly checked to make sure Merlin was alright. His breathing was fine, and he didn't see any injuries.
He would've been more worried if Merlin wasn't snoring.
Shaking his servant awake, Arthur did not want to grin at Merlin's protests to opening his eyes. "Come on, Merlin. You need to wake up now."
"No." He said tiredly, batting Arthur's hands away.
"Don't worry you idiot, I'd just let you be awake long enough to get into bed." Arthur said, getting a grip on Merlin's hands.
"Mm. Bed." Merlin blinked, "Oh. Arthur. Hi."
Raising his eyebrows, Arthur regarded Merlin, "Hello. Care to tell me why you're napping out here?"
Merlin looked around with wide eyes. "We're in a field."
"Yes. Very good Merlin. I'm proud of you for realizing this." Arthur rolled his eyes, helping Merlin stand, "But why are we in a field?"
Merlin swallowed, trying to think, "I was walking somewhere and then I guess I just fell asleep."
"And where were you walking?" He kept a hand on the small of Merlin's back as he guided him.
Merlin said, "Well, the Dragon said that I needed to go and -" He paused, eyes wide. "Actually, I think that was a dream." He added quickly, "Yes. A dream. Because there're no dragons around here." Letting out a nervous laugh, he ended up yawning.
"Of course that was a dream you dolt." Arthur rolled his eyes, "Care to tell me why you're so tired?"
"Couldn't sleep." Merlin nodded.
"Any reasons why?" Arthur tried.
Shrugging, Merlin muttered, "Just a lot on my mind is all."
Which didn't answer Arthur's question, but whenever he'd asked previously what kept Merlin to busy to eat or sleep, he never got a solid answer. He kept trying to find new ways to trick Merlin into talking to him, but it never seemed to work.
But the eating and the sleeping weren't the only things Merlin would forget.
The idiot would 'forget' to tell Arthur if he was hurt.
He'd learned that early on. If he took Merlin on a hunt with him, or if they fought off some bandits, asorcerer or a beast, chances are, Merlin would be injured in some way. At first Arthur trusted Merlin to voice the wounds. After all, Merlin complained about everything; he'd let Arthur know when his feet hurt from walking too long. Or if he had an itch in the middle of back that he couldn't reach. But similar to the time when Arthur first checked Merlin's wound and saw how Merlin wasn't eating, he didn't always believe when Merlin said he was fine.
The first time he really noticed that Merlin would keep the more serious injuries to himself was when they were walking back from taking down a boar. The boar had decided Merlin looked good to go after and so it chased him around for longer than it should've. Arthur managed to kill the boar right before it would've maimed Merlin - who had fallen on the ground. But on the trek home, Merlin kept getting farther and farther behind Arthur. After he couldn't even hear Merlin stumbling behind him, Arthur turned around to find his idiot manservant.
Merlin was leaning against a tree, eyes closed and panting. He hadn't heard Arthur stalk up. Getting right in Merlin's face, he said, "What are you doing?"
Merlin's eyes opened wide. "Just catching my breath, sire. It's nothing really."
"You've never had to catch your breath before." Narrowing his eyes, he looked Merlin up and down. He didn't see any blood seeping through Merlin's clothes. But he seemed to be having trouble breathing. "Are you injured?"
"No. I'm fine Arthur." Merlin shot a grin as if to suggest this was true.
Without much thought, Arthur lifted Merlin's shirt. He was pleased to note that Merlin wasn't skeletal but he wasn't pleased to see all the bruises. "Merlin," his voice was quiet, "why didn't you say anything?"
"It's just some bruising sire." Merlin stated, "I'm fine."
"No. It could be bruised or broken ribs. And I know what those feel like. Besides, if it's a broken rib, it could have pierced something inside you. And I've seen people die from that, it's not nice." Tugging on Merlin who paled at the thought of dying, he kept a hand on him, "Come, I'll help you back and we'll see Gaius."
Only Merlin winced with every step. And it wasn't as if he was wincing from his ribs. Forcing Merlin to a stop, Arthur looked at him again. "Is there any other injuries you haven't told me about? From when you feel I suspect?"
Merlin's mouth stayed closed but Arthur just hardened his gaze. "My ankle." He eventually voiced.
Helping Merlin sit down, Arthur had a look at it and scolded his servant. "How where you even walking without a limp. I take that back, how where you even walking?"
"I didn't want to worry you." Merlin shrugged.
It was after that hunting trip that Arthur would always check Merlin over for injuries before setting back towards the castle. Sometimes he'd have to chase Merlin down and sit on him in order to check, but he'd always make sure. It also helped Arthur get an idea on how well Merlin was eating.
But then there were times when Merlin would be slower at his job, or let out a small hiss when moving to quickly when they hadn't been out saving the Kingdom or hunting. Sometimes this would happen after Merlin started sleeping again, but Arthur would always make sure Gaius looked Merlin over and would plead with Merlin to tell him what happened.
He didn't like seeing Merlin hurt, let alone not knowing how it happened.
Very rarely would Merlin tell him what happened. Sometimes he'd say he just fell and got hurt that way; Arthur never believed him. Once, after a lot of asking, Merlin said that a visiting nobleman had gotten angry with him; Arthur had hunted that nobleman down and told him, with some very stern words and the like, that no one was to touch Merlin. Usually though, Merlin didn't say how he got hurt.
"Dammit Merlin." Arthur's voice resonated off the walls of his room. "Just tell me."
"Arthur," Merlin's voice twisted along with is hands, "Please don't ask."
"I'll make sure it doesn't happen again." Arthur said, reaching out to touch.
"Please. Please don't." Merlin begged. "I can't tell you."
"Why? Why can't you tell me?" Arthur licked his lips, "I can protect you. And if you're worried on what they'd do to me, I can protect myself from whoever did this."
Merlin bit his bottom lip, "I can't - I just can't, Arthur."
"Don't you trust me?" Arthur swallowed at the look of pain that crossed Merlin's face as he gathered Merlin into his arms and held him close.
"I do, Arthur. You know I do." Merlin whispered into Arthur's neck, "But I can't tell you." Then, his voice broke as he added, "I'm sorry."
Then, there were times when the foolish idiot would sacrifice himself for Arthur. Be it like with the poison, causing Arthur to search for that flower or for Merlin to push Arthur out of the way when a spell or an attack came. It was always worse when Merlin would jump in front of Arthur and not just topple them both over. Merlin refused to wear any sort of armor so he'd usually end up hurt.
"You need to stop with this death wish you have." Arthur yelled.
"I don't have a death wish, Arthur." Merlin rolled his eyes.
"Then stop sacrificing yourself on my behalf!" Arthur roared.
Scoffing, Merlin said, "You're the prince. You need to survive. I'm just your manservant. Sure, I'd be mourned, but you're needed."
"But I need you." Arthur said quieter. "And don't you dare think that your life is worth less than mine. Just don't." It was an argument they'd had before, more often than Arthur wanted.
"Granted, you need me," Merlin didn't fight that statement, "but so many others need you. You're the more important one. After all, you'll be a great king."
"Fuck being king!" Arthur yelled. "You matter, Merlin. And not just to me. But if my life would save any of my subjects I'd gladly give it up. Especially for you. You're something, Merlin. I can't put my finger on it, but there is so much more to you."
Merlin's mouth opened and closed for a bit, not sure how to respond. "Right. Well. Agree to disagree?"
"For now." Arthur sighed, "But I won't let this lie. I won't have you die in my place."
Arthur found himself being the one who looked after Merlin the most. He was his own manservant's manservant. Checking up on Merlin to make sure he ate and slept. Checked his body for injuries, which only became easier when it lead up to a relationship between them. He fawned over Merlin, when it was winter and he noticed that Merlin's clothes was getting to thin to do any good, he'd bring new ones. He just couldn't let Merlin fall apart, not on his watch.
Arthur hid his face in his hands. "I come in here to sleep and what do I find? Not only are you still working and not in bed, but you haven't ate any of the food I'd sent up hours ago." He sighed and didn't comment on how Merlin quickly put down his book and started shoveling the food in his mouth. "Is that even warm?"
Merlin nodded, "I just heated it up." Taking some more bites, he added, "Sorry. I just got caught up in this book and-"
"Yes, yes. I know." Arthur put his hands on his hips, "You got lost and probably didn't even realize when the food arrived let alone what time it is. How can I expect my Court Sorcerer to do any good if he faints from not eating?"
"Hey, I haven't done that in years." Merlin shot back.
"Do you know how much time I spend worrying about your skinny arse?" Arthur questioned.
"You like my arse." Merlin said with an eyebrow waggle.
Rolling his eyes, Arthur ignored the statement, "It'd be easier on me if you got an actual manservant."
"I don't want one." He pouted, "I don't see why I need one. I get dressed by myself and I can keep my area clean with magic. Or at least keep it mostly clean."
"Because then that manservant could make sure you ate. And tell you when to stop your research and sleep." Arthur stated simply. "And then I could focus on the Kingdom and not have half my mind wondering if you've passed out or managed to explode yourself."
After a pause, Merlin said, "I don't see how a manservant would keep me from exploding myself."
"Well he'd at least tell me when you managed to do that." Arthur said in a patronizing tone.
"Not if I exploded him at the same time." Merlin nodded to himself. "Besides, you know that you would worry if the servant was keeping watch on me. It wouldn't help any. It would just put a middle man between us."
"Oi." Arthur said, voice sharp, "I will have no man come between us." Now that Merlin had ate all of his food, he pulled the sorcerer up against his body. "No one will come between us."